Is big brother watching you?
Should you be worried?
Every time you go to a website to read a page, your computer sends out information about itself to the website.
The information sent out has to include your IP address, otherwise the server wouldn't know where to send the pages you want to look at, it can also send out (if asked) things such as your operating system, web browser, screen resolution and some details about where you have been on the internet recently.
To find out how much information you give out Privacy.net has most of the answers.
Cookies are another thing which can be used to track users through cyberspace. A cookie is a small piece of data which is stored on your computer. A website can then ask the browser if a certain cookie is on the system. These can be used to see if you have logged onto a site such as h2g2, or what you have selected to buy from a shopping site whilst you continue to look round.
Only the Paranoid Survive
Where personal privacy starts being violated is when companies take data from cookies and users data and then use them to make other inferences or pass them on to other companies. Most companies do not do this but you should be aware it might happen. Read and make sure you understand the privacy statement on those websites you use.
So - what can you do about it?
You can start by stop using the Internet, but you'll still use banks, drive cars and still have a social security number. You'd better get used to the fact you're already being watched.
If you're at work and go through a proxy or a firewall, then the chances are you're pretty much OK. If, however, you're a home user who doesn't use your ISP's proxy service then there isn't too much that can be done, other than getting more complex software, subscribing to an anonymising service such as anonymizer.com or using the topclick search engine.